Grasping Reflex in Newborn Babies: Importance & How It Develops

Importance of Grasping Reflex in a Newborn Baby

Have you noticed that if you place your finger inside your baby’s mouth, your baby starts sucking it or when any bright light is flashed, your baby shuts his eyes tightly or when you stroke his little palms, your baby grasps your finger? Well, this and many more such automatic responses are present in all newborn babies. This is because newborn babies have involuntary movements or actions known as reflexes. In the initial stages of life, these reflexes occur spontaneously and form a part of the baby’s usual growing process. These reflexes are also one of the determining factors to check if the baby’s nervous system is working and developing properly. Where some of the reflexes develop at specific times, there are others that are only seen in newborn babies and one such reflex is a grasping reflex. If you have not heard of it or do not know much about this reflex, well, reading this post may be helpful as it discusses more on what is grasping reflex, why it is important in a newborn baby and other such aspects! Read on to get a more thorough insight into this exciting topic!

What Is Grasping Reflex

Before we proceed with the topic, many of you may be wanting to know what exactly is a grasping reflex or what is the grasping reflex definition, well, to put it in simple words, grasping reflex, which is also known as a palmar reflex, is a primitive response that is present in not only in newborn human babies but also in other primates. This grasp helps and allows the newborn babies to release a grip when the baby’s palm is stroked or an object is placed on the hand. Though this kind of grip is pretty strong but is very unpredictable at the same time, which means that the baby may just release it any time without exhibiting any warning signs. Apart from helping the newborn baby to have skin-to-skin contact with parents and siblings, this reflex is also one of the important parameters in determining the proper functioning and development of the nervous system. These kinds of involuntary reflexes go away on their own at around six months of age; however, if the baby does not outgrow these reflexes, it may indicate some developmental delays or nervous system damage in babies.

Therefore, as parents, you must pay heed to such reflexes and should try them with your baby on a regular basis to keep a tab on the baby’s development process. This is because these movements exhibited by your little one are some of the most interesting involuntary actions.

When Does Grasping Reflex Occur in Babies?

The Palmar reflex or infant grasp reflex, which is a prehensile, primitive, and involuntary reaction to any kind of mechanical stimulus, is present in all newborn babies. However, this reflex starts developing in the womb and can occur anywhere around 16 weeks of gestation age. This means this reflex is present in babies even before birth and can be present for up to five to six months after birth.

How Does It Develop With Age?

Here is how baby grip reflex develops at different stages in your baby’s life:

0-2 Months

Your little one is born with grasping reflex and this can be evident when you stroke your baby’s palm. As soon as you do so, your baby will curl his little fingers around yours. However, these involuntary and instinctual movements are present for up to eight weeks after birth. During the period of these eight weeks, you may notice that your baby may start opening and closing his clenched fists. You can even notice him grasping softer objects such as toys, rattles, or other such objects.

3 Months

At around three months of age, your baby may still be struggling to grab or get hold of objects that he actually wishes to hold. Well, there is no need to worry as this is a very normal occurrence. The best part of this stage is that your baby may develop better hand-eye coordination and he will try to reach out for various objects that may be placed or are within his reach. A play gym will be a great way of getting your baby engaged in palmar reflex integration exercises. Laying on the flat surface of a play gym as your baby tries to catch various hanging objects are a great way to encourage babies to work on this grasping reflexes.

4-8 Months

At this stage, your baby is better at holding bigger objects such as building blocks. However, his dexterity needs fine-tuning for holding smaller objects, and by the time his first tooth appears (which is during this time frame), your little one may start putting things in his mouth. Your baby can move objects from one hand to another, however, your munchkin has started relishing solid foods, he may still struggle to hold his feeding spoon. This may be a good time to begin childproofing your home and keeping smaller objects away from your baby’s reach.

9-12 Months

At this grasp reflex age, your baby will be able to pick up objects with the least amount of effort. His pincer grasp is always improving, which means he will be able to pick up smaller objects too. This improved hand and eye coordination will make your baby hold a spoon but he may still prefer his fingers to put food in his mouth. However, you can help your baby to use a spoon, and soon he will master the trick!

When Does Palmar Reflex Go Away?

The grasping or Palmar reflex starts fading away or goes by the time your baby reaches 2 to 3 months of age. This reflex in newborn babies assist in developing voluntary reflexes and if there is an absence of this reflex, it may indicate certain kind of motor nerve damage or injury or neurological defect such as cerebral palsy.

Your doctor will check these reflexes as soon as your baby is born and if any kind of deformity or abnormality is detected, measures are taken to rectify it.

What Can Parents Do to Stimulate Their Baby’s Grasping Reflex?

What Can Parents Do to Stimulate Their Baby’s Grasping Reflex?

Here are some things that you can do as parents to stimulate grasping reflex in your munchkin:

  • Try placing objects in striking or vibrant colors that will instantly attract your baby’s attention. You can place them a little out of reach of your baby so that your baby makes efforts in catching those objects.
  • Place objects such as blocks, rings, rattlers, etc in your baby’s close proximity so that he can reach for them. However, do not put objects at a distance that the baby cannot reach as this may irritate the baby.
  • As your baby develops a better pincer grasp, you can place finger foods and encourage him to hold food items such as cooked carrots, peas, etc. However, refrain from using hard food items as they may lead to choking hazards.
  • As your baby turns 18 months of age, he will be able to grasp many things. You can encourage your munchkin to place different shaped objects in and out of a box.

When To Worry

Being concerned and worried about the baby’s progress and development is very normal for the parents. In this case, also, you can start to worry if you notice your baby’s inability to grasp an object when placed in front of him. Also, if your baby is not able to pick up or makes an attempt to grab an object by the time he is three to four months of age, it can be a matter of concern! However, if your baby is a preemie or a premature baby, it may be normal for him to reach such developmental stages a bit later than babies who are born on completion of the full-term.

However, before you jump to any conclusions and panic, it is important that you book an appointment with your baby’s pediatrician to know the reason for the same.

What Comes After Grasping Reflex

Well, after your baby masters grasping reflexes, be alert and attentive as throwing objects may not take long. Don’t be surprised to see your munchkin throwing his toys and other objects. And around your baby’s first birthday, your baby may start enjoying games that include throwing, such as catch the ball, stacking up things to make towers, or even enjoy crashing or banging his toys.

By the time your baby turns eighteen months, you may notice your baby’s fascination towards holding pencils, crayons, and other such things. Now, it will be the right time to hand over some crayons to your baby and let him scribble or draw on paper as this will help him develop better motor skills. By the time your baby is three years old; he may be able to draw lines and may even be able to write down alphabets.

Grasping reflex is one of many reflexes such as sucking reflex, Moro reflex, stepping reflex, rooting reflex, asymmetrical tonic neck reflex, etc. that help your baby in settling into their new world. All these reflexes are important for your baby’s healthy development. However, if such kinds of reflexes are missing, delayed, asymmetrical, or weak, it may be because of certain illnesses, medication, or trauma during birth. If you register your baby with any such symptoms, get in touch with your baby’s doctor at the earliest to figure out the reason behind the same and to opt for corrective measures as soon as possible!

Also Read:

Silent Reflux in Infants
Parachute Reflex in Infants
Let Down Reflex in Infants

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Ruchelle has a vast experience working with clients in hospitality, health and wellness, entertainment, real estate, and retail. She aims to utilise her learnings to deliver quality content which will in turn help drive sales and customer engagement.